It was a lovely morning with a light filled cloudy sky sending down shafts of early sunshine on to the sparkling water. Passing the heron like fishermen we went first to collect Tun and then on, through a narrow channel edged with fern and tall grasses, to the little rickety landing stage.
It was 8.0.clock in the morning and off we set, walking first through a small cluster of wooden houses where a man stood listening to his radio while cattle stood beneath a tamarind tree and a mother and child watched from an upstairs window. Then, very gradually climbing, we walked along lanes and pathways dissecting paddy fields and fields of sugar cane until we came to a stop underneath a large tree which shaded a Nat shrine. When a couple of food sellers came by we bought a skewer of rice crackers form them, eating them while we rested. Across their shoulders a thick wooden pole balanced two enormous sacks filled to the brim with crackers they would take to sell around the local villages. While we were there two small monks came to buy, while other monks in red and saffron watched us from the top of a steep path and laughed.
Our own path became much steeper then and took us through fields where women, singing, hoed the fields and others filled their baskets with leaves that would be used to wrap cheroots. Passing through a homestead a family were sorting out their crop of garlic and advised taking water as we approached the climb up. It was hot and It was steep and, as ever, I found it tough – but the views back down to the lake were lovely and, finally, slowly, we were guided by Tun to the village ,followed by a string of children convulsed by my calling out ”ha ha” in an impromptu game of grandmother’s footsteps. At the house of the head man we were welcomed with a cup of tea and afterwards sat on the floor around circular tables to eat dishes of rice and avocado and vegetables brought to us by the family. An old man in an orange and brown turban brought us oranges and bananas.
Leaving the village we walked down the south side of the hill in gentler heat, past bamboo and pine trees, and up again before the path levelled out to Nungkae where a new driver, Zoh, was waiting for us by the gates of an enormous school which had recently been donated by the Japanese.
Glad to be in the bus we drove on to Kekku to meet the others, stopping briefly to watch water buffalo wallowing in the brown water of a small lake, where cows crowded on the bank in the shade of a tree and a family washed themselves and their clothes at the water’s edge.
At Kekku we had a brief look around the 2,500 stupas there, and a big golden life size pig in a glass case. Our bus journey, together, back to Taungyi, was bumpy but while some slept I enjoyed looking out at the passing countryside as the light failed, the range of hills silhouetted black against a sky shot dramatically with pink. In the half light we passed several groups of boys playing volleyball with makeshift nets. Houses then appeared on either side of a road which became busier as we approached the outskirts of Taunggyi – perhaps more exotic at night with its streets crowded with hundreds of roadside stalls, fairy lights above cafes were local people sat. And away on the right an impressive looking temple lit white against the darkness, built to mark 100 years of the building of this Shan capital.
We ate supper at a Chinese restaurant just up the road from the hotel, eating dishes of sticky chicken and sweet and sour fish, chicken and cashew nuts and lovely vegetables. The meal ended with a man in blue striped pyjamas running out from the café to watch a balloon going up with lots of fireworks exploding from it, in advance of the balloon festival to be held here in a few days time.
Extract from – SUNDAY 6th NOVEMBER – Click here to read previous day
Diary extract from Anna Quarendon’s Burmese Tour with Panoramic Journeys – Lost Cities, Hidden Trails, 2011. To find out more about this group journey , to Burma or Tailormade journeys to Burma with Panoramic Journeys, call +44 (0) 1608811183.